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REVIEW: Broadway’s ‘Mean Girls’ brings fast-paced fun to the TPAC stage

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

The 2004 cult classic “Mean Girls” sprung to life on stage in TPAC’s Jackson Hall on Tuesday.

Fans of the film will be delighted to discover the musical adaptation maintains much of the screenplay’s caustic wit, including the ultra-quotable quips that elevated it to its iconic status, echoing sarcastically down many high school halls over the last 18 years.

Like the movie, the musical follows the sheltered heroine Cady Heron as she’s uprooted from her homeschooled life in Africa and acclimates to the treacherous plains of public school in suburban Illinois. Janis Sarkisian and Damian Hubbard, quirky social outcasts who take Cady under their wings, narrate her evolution from the new kid in town to the queen of the Plastics — the revered hot-girl clique run by the conniving Regina George.

The plot of the original coming-of-age comedy remains largely intact, allowing the production to captivate via the sweet allure of nostalgia, but peppered-in pop culture references like social media and Starbucks hint at an attempt to carry it into the modern age. 

In some cases, the modernization effort helps make the show a bit more politically correct, but it also seems to clash with a narrative relying on the comedic relief of stereotypes born in a different time — and the believable existence of a physical “Burn Book.”

Either way, the gaudy, somewhat dated depiction of high school drama remains a quintessential part of the “Mean Girls” charm; and it still speaks, on some level, to the vicious reality of teenage girls today.

The awe-inspiring set by scenic designer Scott Pask and video designers Finn Ross and Adam Young took this production to the next level with its giant digital panels, allowing the setting to change from the halls of North Shore High School to the African savanna in the blink of an eye.

The preshow setup projected pages of the iconic Burn Book, prepping the audience for the raunchy-good fun to unfold with its salacious gossip and off-color insults. 

The cast of “Means Girls” in Act I. TPAC

Clever choreography from director Casey Nicholaw enhanced the drama, timing high-energy movements with the projection changes to switch the scene — sometimes multiple times per number.

The show’s two acts are fast-paced and almost overstuffed with action, but each central character receives a shining musical moment on stage, developing their trademark qualities with satisfying hilarity.

Gossip queen Gretchen Wieners, played with high-strung energy by Megan Masako Haley, shines in “What’s Wrong With Me?” mocking her codependent attachment to Regina George.

Jonalyn Saxer plays lovable dumb blonde Karen Smith with utter confidence, performing the crowdpleasing number “Sexy” inspired by the character’s favorite night of the year: Halloween.

Eric Huffman as the “too gay to function” Damian brought some old-Broadway fun to the stage, leading an esemble of tappers in “Stop,” a number full of cringe-worthy anecdotes that features a fun choreographic moment.

But it’s Damian’s partner-in-crime Janis, played by Mary Kate Morrissey, who steals the show. Morrissey fully embodies Janis’s grungy, art-girl persona and stuns the audience with her powerful voice, her energy culminating in a ferocious delivery of “I’d Rather Be Me.”

Mary Kate Morrissey (Janis Sarkisian) with ensemble performing “I’d Rather Be Me.” TPAC

All in all, the Broadway adaptation of “Mean Girls” offers a great opportunity for a night of secondhand embarrassment and belly laughs, particularly if you want to relish in throwback nostalgia — or if you’re one of those Gen-Zers stoking the early-2000s comeback trends.

The musical runs at TPAC through Sunday, Feb. 13.

You can apply the promo code “Bruins” prior to your ticket selection to access a student discount.

“Mean Girls” was directed by Casey Nicholaw. Book by Tina Fey. Music composed by Jeff Richmond with lyrics by Nell Benjamin.

PHOTO: Danielle Wade (Cady Heron), Megan Masako Haley (Gretchen Wieners), Nadina Hassan (Regina George) and Jonalyn Saxer (Karen Smith) with the iconic Burn Book. TPAC

This review was written by Meagan Irby.

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